PHILADELPHIA — Ethan Martin's future could be in the bullpen if he keeps pitching like this as a starter.
Martin failed to reach five innings for the third consecutive start and the Philadelphia Phillies lost 9-6 to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Wilson Ramos hit a three-run homer off Martin and Corey Brown also went deep for the Nationals to back Gio Gonzalez.
Martin (2-4) allowed five runs and four hits in 4 2-3 innings. The rookie righty has a 6.90 ERA in seven starts.
"It's frustrating," he said. "I'm trying to go as deep as I can and when I can't do that, it's frustrating."
Martin's audition to make the 2014 starting rotation certainly isn't going well.
But he has plenty of pop on his fastball and could be a candidate to help Philadelphia at the back end of games next season.
"That's yet to be talked about," interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "For a guy like him, this is normally the end of the season. He has another month to go and it's new territory for him. He learned a lot tonight."
While the pitchers struggled, another rookie was a bright spot on offense. Cody Asche was 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs for Philadelphia. The left-handed hitter had two hits off lefty Gonzalez.
"I thought he had great at-bats," Sandberg said. "It goes with his ability. He can hit lefties and righties."
Still clinging to postseason hopes, the Nationals overcame a sloppy all-around effort that included three errors, four unearned runs and four wild pitches. They remained 7½ games behind Cincinnati for the second wild-card spot.
Gonzalez (9-6) gave up five runs — one earned — and five hits, striking out six in 5 2-3 innings. He has two straight wins after going seven starts without one.
Ramos connected in the second and the Nationals never trailed. Brown hit a solo shot into the second deck off Luis Garcia in his first big-league at-bat of the season in the seventh to extend the lead to 8-5.
Rafael Soriano tossed a scoreless ninth for his 37th save in 43 chances.
A crowd of 28,826 was the smallest at Citizens Bank Park since April 3, 2008, when 25,831 turned out for a game, also against the Nationals, according to STATS LLC. That was the last time the Phillies drew less than 30,000.
After leading the majors in attendance in 2011-12, the Phillies are fourth in the NL this season. But they're averaging 6,000 fewer people than last year.
Gonzalez faced a lineup missing Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Domonic Brown. Rollins and Utley had the day off and Brown remains sidelined with soreness in his right Achilles.
Control issues cost Martin. He hit Jayson Werth on the left forearm with a 93 mph fastball leading off the second. After Adam LaRoche's one-out walk, Ramos drove one out to right-center for a 3-0 lead.
Martin walked three in the fifth, including LaRoche with two outs and the bases loaded to force in a run. Justin De Fratus came in and walked Ramos to force in Washington's fifth run.
Werth and Ian Desmond had RBI singles in the sixth for the Nationals to make it 7-2.
Asche's two-run single in the fourth got the Phillies within one. Kevin Frandsen led off with a single and Carlos Ruiz reached on third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's fielding error. They advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Asche's hit up the middle.
Shoddy defense hurt Gonzalez again in the sixth. With two outs, John Mayberry Jr. reached on shortstop Desmond's throwing error that scored Darin Ruf. Michael Martinez followed with an RBI single and went all the way to third on catcher Ramos' fielding error. Gonzalez exited and pinch-hitter Utley greeted Ryan Mattheus with an RBI single that cut it to 7-5.
Notes: Denard Span extended his hitting streak to a career-high 16 games with a third-inning single. ... Phillies LHP Mauricio Robles made his major league debut, allowing two unearned runs in an inning. ... Jordan Zimmermann (15-8) opposes Roy Halladay (3-4) when the teams finish the series Wednesday.